ChicagoMSDC President and CEO Vincent Williams’ 21st century collaborative leadership.
Recently named Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (ChicagoMSDC) President and CEO, Vincent Williams is a commanding presence. At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, he’s an imposing figure. But that’s not what makes people take notice. Rather, three distinct qualities demand attention: his intensity, his welcoming nature, and his ability to listen so intently that you forget other people are in the room.
“As a leader, it’s all about the energy you give off,” Williams explains. “I learned that when I was growing up. My family owned a roller-skating rink in the 1970s on Chicago’s southside. Yes, I grew up working in a roller disco, spraying down skates, and learning all the latest skating moves. But I learned a lot more.”
He adds, “My grandfather also owned a gas station. Both businesses taught me to value work and be customer-centric. I learned about leadership through entrepreneurship. That’s what drove me to become an empathetic leader. At ChicagoMSDC, we’re a team improving how we certify, advocate, connect, and develop minority business. I can’t do that alone. I don’t want to do that alone. And that’s what my family taught me when I worked for them.”
Founded as the Chicago Business Opportunity Day, the ChicagoMSDC partners with minority businesses, corporate America, and government entities—seeking fairness and a level playing field. Williams looks to take that to the next level.
“The business case for business diversity is clear. And CEOs are directing their spend more intentionally now. But another factor has upended everything. Forty-one percent of black businesses are shuttering because of COVID. So, we’re still driving corporate hiring toward minority businesses, but in a different way. Traditionally, corporations sought the low-hanging fruit, like janitorial, landscaping, and catering services. That’s great, but we’re emphasizing professional services—lawyers, content management, CPAs, and tech firms—that are populated with superlative minority practitioners. That’s working very well.”
Though Williams’ vision aims high—he is, without question, noble—he stays firmly rooted on the ground. He relates a story about entering an elevator in a downtown Chicago skyscraper on his way to an important business meeting. There was only one passenger in the car—an older white woman. Wanting to ensure he was presentable, he checked his appearance in the elevator’s mirrored doors. As he did, he noticed that she kept crushing herself further into the elevator corner, clutching her purse for dear life. Though Williams remains understanding, incidents like this take their toll. “Every time I walk outside, I have to worry, ‘Will I fit someone’s description?’ My education, socioeconomic status, or how I’m dressed does not matter. All they see is my color.”
Still, Williams fights on, particularly through ChicagoMSDC. “I’m really honored and proud to be serving as the organization’s fifth president. I love our dynamic community of engaged corporations and MBEs.” Though his effect is most dramatically seen in his daily work, one example best captures his distinct approach. Soon after he took the reins, ChicagoMSDC held its annual scholarship awards ceremony virtually, where it awarded 10 scholarships to college-bound entrepreneurs. Though he enjoyed the virtual ceremony, something was missing.
“I decided to personally hand deliver the financial scholarships. I wanted to shake their hands (with gloves during COVID-19), to let them know that I see them. Just to walk in and see the smiles on their faces. I wanted them to know that they are valued and appreciated. And I wanted them to see a black male in this position take the time. It was so rewarding. That’s enough fuel for me to burn at work every day.”